“Cities were meant to be gardens in which to grow beautiful people.” — Jim Rouse
While the Eastern Shore has had its fair share of famous luminaries over the centuries, there has always been a special place for developer and city planner Jim Rouse. A native of Easton, where Talbottown, his first project, still successfully stands on Harrison Street, Rouse would become internationally known for his creation of such iconic venues as Faneuil Hall in Boston, South Street Seaport in New York City, and Bayside Marketplace in Miami as well as the award-winning planned community of Columbia, Maryland.
But the project that most Marylanders remember was his development at the Inner Harbor of Baltimore named Harborplace. Opened in 1980, Harborplace became the national model for the revitalization of American cities, which also landed Rouse’s image on the front cover of Time magazine, for a good reason. By the end of its second year, the twin downtown pavilions would attract over 20 million visitors a year.
Fast forward to 2023, and what the rare visitor sees today is a ghost town. Sitting almost abandoned with only one restaurant (Hooters) and one or two tourist t-shirt stores, the once pride of Baltimore (and Maryland) is now a skeleton of its former self.
One witness of this decline has been Rebecca Hoffberger. The legendary founder and first director of the American Visionary Art Museum. With her museum on the other side of the Harbor, Rebecca has watched over the last few decades the slow and painful death of the once immensely popular hub by a parade of commercial developers who disregarded what Rouse’s original vision had been for Baltimore.
But for those who know Rebecca well, it was not a surprise to learn that almost from the day she retired from the AVAM, she recruited the assistance of her friends at TBC Inc., a local advertising and marketing agency, to offer a remarkable vision to reactivate Harborplace.
By Channelling her old late friend, Jim Rouse, and using the one-hundred-year-old Tivoli Gardens in Denmark as a helpful guide, Hoffberger outlined a comeback plan on the pages of baltimorefishbowl.com. Beyond creating a dozen serious suggestions to bring the Inner Harbor alive again (including a roller coaster) , her goal was to remind potential developers and city and state officials what Rouse had built.
That secret sauce was not to bring well-known retail stores back but to rebuild the site as an attraction. In Hoffberger’s mind, there is a vast difference between traditional commercial development (stores and restaurants) and what it takes to attract a diverse audience to a special place to simply have fun.
The Spy touched base with Rebecca a few weeks ago to talk about the Rouse vision, her 2023 interpretation of that perspective, and her hope that as state and local funding become available to once again try and revitalize Harborplace, the channeling of a gifted Eastern Shore visionary can be heard again.
This video is approximately eight minutes in length. To read Rebecca Hoffberger’s essay in the Baltimore Fishbowl please go here.